Impacting children’s brain development

A new report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is calling for more attention to be paid to the growing evidence that exposure to many everyday common chemicals are causing harm to children’s brain development.

Dozens of scientists, health practitioners and children’s health advocates have expressed their concern in the paper that these chemicals are disrupting brain development from as early as pregnancy with the effect continuing through to children of all ages.

In the paper University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Susan Schantz reports that the chemicals that are of most concern include:

  • Lead and mercury
  • Organophosphate pesticides used in agriculture and home gardens
  • Phthalates, found in pharmaceuticals, plastics and personal care products
  • Flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers
  • Air pollutants produced by the combustion of wood and fossil fuels

And some chemicals which are now banned can still have a negative effect on health, with Schantz adding, “These chemicals are pervasive, not only in air and water, but in everyday consumer products that we use on our bodies and in our homes,” Schantz said. “Reducing exposures to toxic chemicals can be done, and is urgently needed to protect today’s and tomorrow’s children.”

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“The human brain develops over a very long period of time, starting in gestation and continuing during childhood and even into early adulthood,” explained Schantz, “But the biggest amount of growth occurs during prenatal development. The neurons are forming and migrating and maturing and differentiating. And if you disrupt this process, you’re likely to have permanent effects.”

How chemicals impact kids

Some of the chemicals included in the report are also known to interfere with normal hormone activity. The reports states that most pregnant women in the US would test positive for exposure to phthalates and PBDEs, both of which disrupt thyroid hormone function which is especially important for healthy brain development.

Phthalates, which Schantz says are found in a variety of products leading to daily exposure, are another common hormone disruptor, with studies linking certain phthalates with attention deficits, lower IQ and conduct disorders in children.

How to reduce exposure to chemicals

For those concerned some of the ways we can reduce exposure to certain chemicals include:

  • Reduce exposure to fast food. A US study finding that consumers of fast food have a 40% higher level of phthalates in their urine than other consumers due to the chemicals prevalence in food packaging materials.
  • Replace chemical make-up and beauty products with more natural cosmetics. A US study published earlier this year arguing that making the change for just a few days is enough to significantly lower the levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in teenage girls.
  • Switch from plastics to glass or paper containers when microwaving food.

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.

Author: AFP - Relax News